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Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology

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Title: Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology  
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Subject: Ithaca, New York, Nene (bird), Red-throated Loon, Bluebird, Samuel Curtis Johnson, Jr., Western Scrub Jay, Flexi disc, Blue-faced Honeyeater, James Clements, Tim Gallagher
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Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology

Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Established 1915
Type Research and conservation institute
Location Ithaca, New York, USA

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a member-supported[1] unit of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York which studies birds and other wildlife. It is housed in the Imogene Powers Johnson Center for Birds and Biodiversity in Sapsucker Woods Sanctuary. Approximately 250 scientists, professors, staff, and students work in a variety of programs devoted to the Lab's mission: interpreting and conserving the Earth's biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds.[2] Work at the Lab is supported primarily by its 45,000 members. The Cornell Lab issues two quarterly publications, Living Bird magazine and the BirdScope newsletter, and manages numerous citizen-science projects and websites, including the Webby Award-winning All About Birds.[3]


The Cornell Lab of Ornithology was founded by Arthur A. "Doc" Allen who lobbied for creation of the country's first graduate program in ornithology, established at Cornell University in 1915. Initially, the Lab of Ornithology was housed in the university's entomology and limnology department.[4]

Birder/businessman Lyman Stuart, donors, and landowners purchased or donated farmland in 1954 which was set aside for the sanctuary. Stuart helped finance the construction of the first Lab building in 1957. Lab founder Arthur Allen, with colleagues Louis Agassiz Fuertes, James Gutsell, and Francis Harper, had dubbed the area Sapsucker Woods after discovering the first breeding Yellow-bellied Sapsucker ever reported in the Cayuga Lake Basin. This woodpecker is now common in the area and is part of the Cornell Lab's logo.

Today the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is housed in the Imogene Powers Johnson Center for Birds and Biodiversity which opened in summer 2003.

Building and grounds

The 226-acre (0.91 km2) Sapsucker Woods Sanctuary contains more than four miles (6 km) of trails taking visitors around Sapsucker Pond, on boardwalks, through wetlands and forest. More than 200 species of birds have been recorded in the sanctuary. Approximately 55,000 people visit the sanctuary and public areas of the Cornell Lab each year.[5]

The Visitors' Center observatory features a 30-foot (9.1 m) wall of windows, seating, a fireplace, and spotting scopes. The Bartels Theater shows high-definition movies about birds and nature. A sound studio and kiosks educate visitors about bird and animal sounds. The Wild Birds Unlimited at Sapsucker Woods gift shop is also located in the observatory. Other attractions include a multimedia program, wildlife artwork, a reconstructed study with murals by renowned painter Louis Agassiz Fuertes, a smaller second-floor observatory, and the Adelson Library which contains historical and contemporary ornithological materials, including an extensive collection of monographs and journals.[6]


The Lab is an administrative unit within Cornell University. It has a separate 30-member Administrative Board that is appointed by the Cornell Board of Trustees.[7] As of fiscal year 2010, the Lab has an annual budget of $20.5 million and income of $21.9 million.[8] It has 18 senior staff, which includes eight holding Cornell faculty appointments.[7]

Citizen science

Collecting the observations of everyday birders for scientific use is a hallmark of the Lab. Bird watchers of all ages and skill levels help gather the data needed to capture the big picture about the distribution and abundance of birds. Approximately 200,000 people participate in the Lab's projects.[9] The eBird database allows birders to track any of the earth’s 10,005 bird species to a single scientific database. So far, observations on 8,650 species from 200 countries have been recorded.[10]

The observations of citizen scientists have helped document the declines of some species, the range expansions of others, and the spread of avian diseases. The observations of birders help the Cornell Lab study birds in cities, suburbs, and forests and help answer questions about how proximity to humans, pollution, climate change, and loss of habitat affect different species.

The Cornell Lab's citizen-science projects take place in all seasons and include Project FeederWatch,[11] NestWatch,[12] Celebrate Urban Birds,[13] Birds in Forested Landscapes,[14] CamClickr,[15] and two projects in partnership with the National Audubon Society: eBird[16] and the Great Backyard Bird Count.[17] The Cornell Lab operates many NestCams[15] which capture live video of nesting birds in the spring.

Educational resources

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has multiple ways for people to learn more about birds.[18] More structured avenues include the self-paced, college-level Home Study Course in Bird Biology.[19] The BirdSleuth curriculum is designed to help elementary and middle-school students discover science through bird projects.[20] A five-week online course "Courtship and Rivalry in Birds" is now available through eCornell.

The Lab is also runs the subscription resource Birds of North America Online, which contains all the latest scientific research available for each North American species and includes sounds, images, and some video.[21]

Informal resources include an app called iKnowBirdSongs that cover over 370 species' songs collected by Cornell Lab. The app allows the bird enthusiast to identify birds in the field by song before seeing the bird through a series of memorization techniques.[22] A portion of the proceeds from the app help the Cornell Lab of Ornithology fund their educational and conservation efforts.[23] There is also a website called All About Birds with an online bird guide that includes pictures, sounds, and video for hundreds of North American bird species.[3] A new video series called Inside Birding provides tips from the experts on how to get more out of the pastime.[24]


Cornell Lab scientists, students, and visiting scholars are carrying on much original research in behavioral ecology, conservation, education, evolutionary biology, information systems, and population genetics. Cornell Lab engineers also develop hardware and software tools used in researching bird and animal communication and patterns of movement.

In the Evolutionary Biology laboratory researchers are extracting DNA from living birds or specimens to uncover the relationships among species.[25]

In addition to countless studies and published papers, the Cornell Lab's Conservation Science Department has produced land managers' guides aimed at conserving dwindling populations of Scarlet Tanagers, Wood Thrushes, and other forest birds.[26] The Lab worked with Partners in Flight to identify rapidly-declining species and produce the first North American Landbird Conservation Plan.[27] Lab staff also worked with multiple partners to create the first-ever State of the Birds report in March 2009.[28]

The Lab's Neotropical Bird Conservation Program is gathering baseline data about bird populations in Mexico, where many North American birds spend their winters, and helping colleagues in other countries with conservation training and resources.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology led the scientific arm of the search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, overseen by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from 2004 to 2009.[29]

Lab scientists are currently involved with partners from industry, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations in setting research priorities to better understand the impact of wind power facilities on birds and bats.[30]

Bioacoustics research

The Lab's Bioacoustics Research Program (BRP) creates remote recording devices used by researchers in projects around the world.[31] These autonomous recording units (ARUs) consist of a hard drive, housing, and microphone array[32] that can be mounted in a forest or anchored to the ocean floor.[33] ARUs have been used in the Elephant Listening Project in Africa,[34] studies of whales,[35] and in the search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.[36]

BRP has also developed sound-analysis software programs called Raven and Raven Lite.[37] Engineers are working on programmable radio tags to track birds and other animals for longer periods of time and to follow bird migrations.[38]

Sound archives

From its earliest days, the Cornell Lab has had a special interest in bird and animal sounds. Founder Arthur Allen and his students were pioneers in the field, recording the first bird songs on a film sound track.

The world's largest collection of natural sounds is held in the climate-controlled archives of the Lab's Macaulay Library. There are more than 165,000 recordings of birds, bats, whales, insects, frogs, elephants, and other animals.[39] Macaulay Library recordists continue to mount expeditions to collect wildlife sounds and images from around the world to expand the archive.[40]

These sounds are used by researchers around the world. They have also been used in everything from museum exhibits and Hollywood movies to singing alarm clocks and handheld PDAs that help users identify birds in the field. These sounds are used in the Cornell Lab's extensive list of audio guides. The Macaulay Library also contains a growing collection of high-definition video. Anyone can listen to recordings and watch videos in the archive.

Each year the experts from Macaulay Library hold the week-long Sound Recording Workshop in the Tahoe National Forest. Participants learn how to effectively handle a portable field recording system to make scientifically accurate recordings.[41]

Information science

The Information Science unit creates the underlying structure that makes the Cornell Lab's citizen-science projects work.[42] It also converts massive amounts of data into charts, maps, and tables. Computer programmers at the Lab built the infrastructure for the Birds of North America Online and are now coordinating the Avian Knowledge Network, an unprecedented effort to link bird data records kept at institutions all over the Western Hemisphere. As of October 2009, the AKN contained more than 66.5 million records, accessible to anyone.[43]

Cornell University Museum of Vertebrates

The Cornell University Museum of Vertebrates is also housed in the Johnson Center and holds 1,230,000 specimens of fish, 44,300 amphibians & reptiles, 45,000 birds, 3,200 eggs, and 15,000 mammals some now extinct. Students and scientists use the collections in their studies.[44]




  1. , Autumn 2003, ISSN 1059-521-X

External links

  • Cornell Lab of Ornithology
  • All About Birds: Online Bird Guide
  • Ivory-billed woodpecker
  • Macaulay Library is the world's largest collection of animal sounds and associated video.

Coordinates: 42°28′48″N 76°27′04″W / 42.4800°N 76.4511°W / 42.4800; -76.4511

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